The Leafs, who won the coveted Don Johnson Cup in 2015-16, entered the 2016-17 season hoping for a chance at making playoffs. They accomplished that — and much more.
“They were certainly a good bunch of workers and we rode them as far and as hard as we could. Their effort showed. Thankfully we got to Game 6 in Round 2, which certainly surpassed our beginning objective,” said assistant coach Rob Lindsay in a phone interview.
“It's always a challenge after you win the Don Johnson Cup the previous year and lose the talent that we did to ice a competitive team but we certainly did it,” he continued. “To us, it's a successful season no matter how we look at it.”
Head coach Josh Dill shared a similar sentiment.
“We finished first in the league, which was totally unexpected. We got by East Hants in the first round and put up a good fight against a really good team in Liverpool,” said Dill.
“My opinion is they have a very good shot at winning the Don Johnson this year. Skill-wise, I'd say they're probably the best team in our league,” Dill added.
The Leafs lost Round 2 of the Best of Seven series to the Liverpool Privateers in Game 6 by a score of 5-0. The series was a nail-biter, as the Privateers took the first two games — one by a surprising 8-5 come-from-behind victory — before the Leafs rallied back.
“The first game was a heartbreaker for us. It took all the wind out of our sails after being up 5-0 and losing that game. It kind of killed the momentum for us,” said Dill, reflecting on the championship run.
The Privateers are now taking on the Pictou County Scotians to determine which team will take the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League title and advance to compete for Maritime hockey supremacy.
“This year, I think we did very well. We put a good product on the ice and we were a couple wins away from winning our division for the third year in a row,” said Dill.
Losing four players to age restriction
The Valley Maple Leafs will be losing four strong competitors this year due to the NSJHL's age restrictions. They are team captain Tyler Young, defencemen Patrick Duggan and Connor O'Brien, and forward Shayne Gillis.
Both Dill and Lindsay lamented saying farewell to Young, who joined the team after being an affiliated player through the Junior C Avon River Rats.
“We lose our captain, the heart and soul of our team, which probably can't be replaced,” said Dill.
“When you get a guy like Tyler Young — I don't know if there's words to express it. He's probably one of our strongest captains that we've had,” said Lindsay.
“It was really nice to see him with the C this year. He was an integral part, as were all the overagers, in last year's pursuit and conquest of the Don Johnson Cup. They all brought a special thing to the team and kind of rounded out our portfolio, whether it was leadership or effort or skill or determination,” Lindsay said.
As for Duggan, both Dill and Lindsay said he was a steady defenceman to have on the blueline.
“When you look at O'Brien, he's three apples tall but he's mighty as anything... He plays hard, he plays fierce,” said Lindsay.
As for Gillis, players take notice when he's not around.
“He has a calmness to him on the ice — except for recent events in East Hants — but overall, he's a relatively composed character. He brings a lot to the dressing room. He's one of those leaders in the room that if he wasn't there, there's certainly a large void,” said Lindsay.
“They all bring something different. Some of them bring emotion, some of them bring experience, some of them bring pure spirit,” he said.
While Dill and Lindsay said they're sad to see the overage players go, they're already looking to see who they can secure for next season's line up.
“Next year we will still be rebuilding but hopefully we get some luck and go a little further,” said Dill.